A Fiscal Commission on the National Debt? Good Luck With That

A Fiscal Commission on the National Debt? Good Luck With That


As Congress begins a new session, the price of government expansion during the pandemic is coming into sharper focus. The national debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will soon surpass records set in World War II, and bipartisan support is rising in both the House and Senate for another fiscal commission to tackle the debt problem. We should greet this news with high hopes but low expectations; the last two commissions convened for this purpose failed.

The failures of the Simpson-Bowles commission of 2010 and the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction of 2011 (known as the Super Committee) demonstrate that no debt commission can succeed without reforming entitlement spending. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other mandatory programs stood at a combined 10.2% of gross domestic product in 2000. That more than doubled, to 23.1%, during the pandemic. These entitlements already constitute almost 60% of the federal budget and are projected to grow faster than wages, prices and the economy over the next decade. Only interest on the national debt is growing faster than entitlement spending.

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